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Help Your Teen Before He Is One 

Being a teen is not easy, however, parents can biblically prepare their children well for this season to come.

Apr 18, 2024

This article is for you if your child is not yet a teen. The younger the better. From teaching upper elementary and middle school for over a decade, I have grown to cherish, celebrate, and encourage good parenting. I cherish it because it is valuable and rare. I celebrate it because it is worthy of praise. I encourage it because my heart breaks to see the inevitable results from a lack of it. My great joy in seeing the fruit of godly parenting is matched by my anguish in seeing the fallout from unbiblical ideas claiming the impressionable hearts of children younger and younger. There is no doubt that the culture is getting better at making “the Lie” look more beautiful (Romans 1:25). But we cannot forget that God’s way is far more beautiful than anything this world can offer.    

The earlier parents choose to prepare themselves and their children for the teen years, the better. But how? I hope to help parents understand issues I have seen pop up over the past few years in the hearts and minds of the young people for whom I care deeply. This is a thought exercise. The categories below overlap, but it is helpful to see them as separate categories for the sake of this thought exercise.   

Outsmart the Smartphone  

I see teens in a different context than parents do. I see them “en masse.” Rarely do I see them in a household or church context. I see them with each other, doing things together as a group. And believe me, they live for their phones. Every day I witness the pleasure associated with phones in the hands of teens, almost as if I can see the dopamine being released into their brains like a constant I.V. drip. Therefore, I beg you to sincerely contemplate your decision before putting a smartphone in the hands of your child.   

When I was eighteen and heading off to college, away from home for the first time, I wrestled with the idea of joining Facebook. I remember how alluring it was to me. I vacillated for a long time and made the unpopular choice to forego the social media world of 2007. I had no idea what that seemingly haphazard decision would save me from, especially given my severe, albeit unknown to me, struggle with fear of man. And that was then. This is now. I cannot imagine what today’s teens face with social media, but I must seek to understand, and so must you.  

If you are considering providing your teen with a smartphone, I entreat you to ask yourself pointed questions like, “How will giving my child a smartphone draw him closer to Christ?” and “Am I tempted to give my child a smartphone because I’m concerned with what others will think of me if I don’t?” or “Am I concerned what my child will think of me if I don’t?” If you recoil from these questions, please start looking for logs in your eye immediately; your child’s soul is too precious to not ask these questions from a sincere heart.   

Ponder this—what if you decided as a parent that your default position would be to not give your child a smartphone, and you would only change your mind if you could convince yourself on biblical grounds that he needs one? Let your default position be countercultural. If the thought of being countercultural makes you cringe, perhaps you are wanting to give your child a phone for the wrong reason. The impact of a poorly thought-out plan in this area is not easily undone. 

Know Whom to Fear  

Our culture is similar to Daniel’s. Following God was unpopular then and it is becoming increasingly unpopular now. A difference is that the persecution your child will face today is mostly social, as opposed to physical. This does not mean it is less scary, but scary in a different way. Phones and social media amplify this fear because of how hastily gossip and slander can be spewed with minimal (if any) repercussions. Fearing what others will say of you is not just a way of life, but a survival tactic. It is a truly exhausting way to live, but many teens are convinced it is the only way to survive.   

God compares the fear of man to a snare (Proverbs 29:25). A trap. Something that doesn’t look dangerous, but is. This definition is the starting point for you and your child in understanding the fear of man. You need to contemplate the fear of man. Do you understand that a child who says, “I don’t care what others think!” and the one who worries himself sick wondering “What will everyone think of me?” can both be driven by fear of man? Are any of your parental decisions driven by fear of man? Do you know what to look for in your own heart and in that of your child concerning fear of man? Who scares you? Who are you afraid of? Who do you really want to please?   

Differentiate Protecting from Overprotecting  

This is a difficult line to walk, but a critical one. As one who sees teens and their behavior in collective groups every day, I entreat you to take your time in considering proper protections from worldly influences. This goes beyond the almighty smartphone. This distinction should impact decisions regarding all technology, social media, friendships, dating, gaming, schooling, etc. Please, please, please think of the long game as you prayerfully decide together what your parental expectations will be.   

We live in a pendulum-swinging world. Someone sees another family who is overprotective of their teens (the common word I hear is “sheltered”), watching those teens reach adulthood and go wild for the things of the world. Next thing you know, that observer determines to not provide necessary protections to avoid “sheltering” his child in the same way. This is an overcorrection. Overcorrection does not lead to safety—just ask anyone who’s experienced it in a car. Protecting your child means making intentional choices to limit ungodly influences in his life, all the while promoting the more beautiful thing, which is obedience to God leading to blessing. This is not just a “don’t do that” campaign. We are in the business of biblical change by teaching the “put offs” and the “put ons” (Romans 12:1-2, Ephesians 4:22-24).1  

Talk Sooner  

You know you need to have difficult conversations soon. That is good. You need to have those conversations even sooner than you think. When children are little, they are learning basic (but critical) lessons such as “Obey Mom and Dad” and “Don’t be selfish.” Consider pivoting from these critical lessons to engage in more challenging conversations sooner rather than later. These conversations include things like the definition and purpose of marriage; the binary creation of biological sex; the difference between humans and animals; the self-drivenness of excessive gaming; the dangers of isolation; the selfishness of boredom; the wastefulness of laziness; and the self-promotion of social media.  

As you converse, make a point to speak of the blessing in the Word of God for those who choose to follow Him. A prominent Scriptural watering hole to be reminded of the ultimate blessing of a life of obedience to God is fittingly found in a book written specifically to young people—the book of Proverbs (e.g., 1:33; 2:7-11; 3:13-18; 4:18; 8:10-11; 16:20). Children do need to be taught the negative commands but helping them to see the beauty of following God’s ways helps them to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).   

The Noetic Effects of Sin  

Learning about the noetic effects of sin (how our fallen condition corrupts our thinking) was life-changing for me. I mention it in everything I write, and it is key with teens. It can be a gamechanger in your family to introduce this precious doctrine to children before their teen years. Teach your young child that sin has permeated every aspect of the human, including his mind. Use examples. It is like constantly driving a car that veer left. It needs correction. It needs alignment. Our thinking on its own is futile and must be renewed (Romans 12:2). God’s Word helps us align ourselves back on the straight and narrow. We need God’s Word because we cannot trust our thinking. I will continue to harp on the same noetic-effects-of-sin “note,” because it is a note that needs to be “heard” in the hearts of teens before they are teens. The noetic effects doctrine could be the secret weapon in the fight for a teen’s heart. Why? It is the doctrine that has potential to influence a teen to actually want restrictions on phones and technology and social media. Or even to want a Savior. Ponder that.   

Identity, Authority, and Self  

Each of these topics merits its own section, but they are inextricably linked. I place them together to demonstrate how the noetic effects of sin inform each. Since my thinking is impacted by sin, my identity is marred. Yes, I am made in the image of God, but my identity is not exactly as it should be while I am on this earth. Since I cannot trust my thinking, I must appeal to a purer authority than myself to dictate how I am to live. This draws me to God. Knowing that sin affects my thinking will help me have a more humble, realistic view of myself. This will also help me to see the need for parameters to be in place to protect me from myself (this relates to all topics in the “Talk Sooner” section above as well).   

Tell Them to Expect Persecution  

Think of how it changes your perspective when you expect opposition. The tide has turned in American culture – children need to expect opposition to biblical beliefs. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). If your child knows this is a reality for him, fear of man takes a hit because your child now knows he has a greater cause than mere self-preservation. I am convinced that teens do all they can to avoid persecution and opposition. Shouldn’t their perspective be the opposite? What if they were taught early on that the worst thing they will face is not the disapproval of men (persecution), but the disapproval of God?   

Teach your child that he will be mocked for standing up for what is right in God’s eyes. It will happen. But God does not leave him alone in this struggle. No, the Creator of the universe, before whom all men will one day stand, actually commends him for it (Matthew 5:10-12; John 15:19-20; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10; 1 Peter 4:12-14). Teach children to expect opposition and persecution, and to trust God during difficulties, not to remove the difficulty, but to help them to be content in the midst of it (Philippians 4:11-13), knowing that God’s way is best.   

Utilize the Church to Promote Others-Centeredness  

Self-focus is wildly common in a typical child’s day-to-day activities. In our modern moment, oneself is king. What if you didn’t get caught up in the common parenting questions of “Is gaming sinful if it’s not violent?” or “Should I give my child a phone because all his friends have one?” What if, instead, you thought about phone and gaming decisions from the aspect of “How is this activity isolating my child from others and cultivating selfishness in his heart?” I propose that it is not always the acts of commission with gaming and screen time that are harmful, but what is being omitted from the child’s life. Things like loving and serving others, listening to an elderly person who has wisdom and experience in life, sharing something with a sibling, learning to notice the child who sits alone and befriending him, having to resolve conflicts with real people…. All these seem basic and trivial and dare I say insignificant, but they are what the stuff of life is.   

I hope you are thinking “this is why we need to be enveloped in the church.” What better place to promote community than in the church? All of us need the benefit of all the gifts of the Body of Christ. The “one another” commands are not only for adults. I encourage you to promote others-centeredness in your child’s environment so that when he is faced with the almighty self that rules his peers, it is an utterly foreign concept to him.   

Instructively Teach Them to Apply Scripture 

Parents, please lead your families in a regular Bible study time. And as you do, may I suggest that you choose narrative passages intentionally to address some of the key concepts in this article. Who in Scripture suffered from fear of man?1Examples include Abraham, King Saul, the believers who would not profess Jesus [Jn 12:42-43], and Peter.  Who in Scripture got confused about identity?2Examples include Naomi, Nebuchadnezzar, Moses, and Abraham. Who in Scripture did not get confused about identity?3Examples include Daniel, Joshua, Mary, and Paul. How do we see the noetic effects of sin play out in the lives of people?4Examples include Lot’s wife, Judas, the book of Judges as a whole (see Judges 21:25).  Who was self-driven as opposed to God-driven?5Examples include Peter when he denied Christ, the ten spies who gave a bad report of Canaan, Ananias and Sapphira, and the Pharisees.  Help them see that people in the Bible faced the same issues as us. Help them to not only relate to biblical figures, but to see that the biblical figures could relate to them! This helps make God’s Word beautiful to them, which makes God’s way beautiful to them—a fact that, if clung to, will guard their hearts both in the teen years and beyond, and prayerfully, make them wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15).